Since I was diagnosed with type two diabetes a few weeks ago my life has drastically changed.
I wasn't surprised at the diagnosis. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) long ago–too long ago to recall exactly when, in fact. PCOS affects women's ability to use insulin–they call it being "insulin resistant"–and therefore predisposes those with the condition to type two diabetes. Women with PCOS are often treated with the drug Glucophage (metformin), but I tried it and hated it, for various reasons.
If you have PCOS you can mitigate your risk of becoming diabetic with diet and exercise. I suppose that's how I've been ducking that particular bullet for so many years. While I'm not particularly fit, I used to engage in some kind of exercise, whether it be yoga or simply walking around the Savannah with my good friend Rhonda. Diet wise, while I'd never been a calorie counter, I'd try to avoid egregious excesses, get my five a day, and prefer lean meats with little added fat.
All that changed when I met my husband. Since we have been living together, I've been eating like a typical Trini, right down to the three starches on a Sunday and juice with every meal. Although I'd long ago given up soft-drinks, I found myself drinking them several times a week. I was adding sugar to my tea for the first time in decades.
Living in a hotel with a gourmet restaurant on site, as I did last year when I was in Grenada for four months, was also a bit of a death knell to my healthy eating. They made this chocolate brownie with molten chocolate in the centre that was my undoing, honestly.
All the yoga I did in Grenada couldn't compete with the food I ate, and I packed on weight. To make matters worse when I got back home, I went soon afterwards to Scotland, where everything was delicious and everything came batter-fried.
When I was an undergraduate 20 years ago I lived on doubles and digestive biscuits because I couldn't afford much more. Having gone back to school last September, I found myself sliding into the old habit of eating doubles for lunch, not because of straitened finances but because it's a convenient, quick, hot meal. Throw in a saheena or a bhaiganee and I could almost convince myself it was "balanced."
The UWI doctor who diagnosed my diabetes quickly disabused me of that notion. One doubles has 400 calories, he said. I usually ate three at a time. Doing the math I wanted to faint. I'm also dealing with my desperate addiction to ice cream. We're talking a pint of the good stuff here: Ben and Jerry's Phish Food, at 280 calories per serving, and I'd have the whole pint, 1,120 calories.
Clearly I have had to re-evaluate my whole life since my diagnosis of diabetes. I won't lie: it's a bit saddening to look at a sliver of pita bread, salad and tuna for breakfast. I am already fed up of almonds, one of the highly recommended snacks for weight loss, and if I have to eat one more apple...!
The hardest part about it is changing the way I think about food. I'm a foodie. I love how food tastes, feels in my mouth, smells, looks. Now that I am eating more meals but tiny ones without the fat, salt and sugar that makes food taste good, my relationship with food has to change. It's not about eating for pleasure, but eating for fuel.
I have to choose foods not for how they make me feel as a sensory experience, but how they make me feel from a nutritional perspective. The last roti I had–a bone chicken with bhagi and pumpkin–left me drowsy and sluggish because a whole roti contains too much carbohydrate for my body to process at once. I'd have been better off just eating the chicken and veg and skipping the roti itself, I suspect.
Only Sunday night I took my nephews and daughter for ice cream and had what the store called a "mini." It still came in with 430 calories and 56 grams of carbohydrate, way too much for my insulin-resistant body to handle in one go.
I'm learning, though. But if you see me sighing heavily as I pass next to a pie man or doubles vendor, don't hate. It's a steep learning curve.